One room, many visitors
Let’s play with the room metaphor a little bit more to consider the different roles between poets and readers.
Poets are like the skilled craftspeople who create rooms – the architects and designers, builders and decorators who make the poetic structures and spaces that we visit. They are wordsmiths, constructing poems out of the raw material of words, punctuation and blank space.
Sometimes visitors to the room of a poem (readers, like you and me) feel that we should focus only on understanding what the craftspeople (the poets) intended when they built the room.
We can certainly get a huge amount of pleasure from observing different aspects of the room. We might examine the materials out of which it’s constructed, its structure, and its technical features. But thinking about what the architects and builders were doing when they built poetic rooms is only one way to approach a poem.
Another way is to think about the experience that poetic rooms offer to us, their visitors. As visitors, we’ll certainly notice features of the room that were put there by the builders, architects and designer. But what really matters to us is the impact that those features have on us. What kind of atmosphere do they create in the room? What sort of effect do they have?
Different visitors to the room will notice different things, and we’ll all respond in unique ways to the things that we notice. Some will enjoy listening to the sounds that the room makes; others will be intrigued by its shape. We’re all likely to notice different details, and our response to those details will reflect, at least in part, our own experiences and personalities. Indeed, our own response to a room can change over time. Revisiting a poetic room having been away from it for a while can sometimes feel like entering it for the first time, because we’ve become different people during the time we were away.
Because each of us will react in our own, unique way when we visit the room of a poem, we need to learn to trust our instincts and listen to our feelings. It’s great to understand some of the techniques that poets use so that we can reflect on why we feel the way we do when we visit a poem. But fundamentally, close reading a poem is about our own experience of that poetic room at a particular moment in time.
Poems are not restricted or ‘invitation only’ spaces. When it comes to poetry, everyone is welcome: you have as much right to be in the room of a poem as anyone else. Whether the room of a poem was built hundreds of years ago or just this past week, it invites you in. Empty rooms are very quiet and lonely places; poetry really comes to life when you enter into it.
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